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« Social Media Confessions & Choices (First Official Post of 2009) | Main | From Six Sigma to "Six Signals" of Unprompted Listening »

January 26, 2009


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Peter - Great post. Excellent recipe for the FDA and many others to follow. Jeff Bennett

FDA and Social Media? Absolutely.

Just as Wegman's is using Twitter (@wegmans) for the distribution of recall notices, the FDA has available a variety of social channels. There is a particularly compelling case for social media around food (and family!) issues given the role of the "Advocate Mom" in her specific online social setting. Sitting at the center of her online friends as the resident expert on food, family, kid's health and related topics she is a powerful communications conduit.

The current email and RSS efforts are solid, each reaching a distinct segment. They support the holistic approach in dissemination that is now (or certainly should be) the norm. The templates are especially important in spreading the "talk base" as they make it easier for other businesses in the food chain to further support the FDA effort, in the same way that Zappos' "Send this to a friend" makes it easy for consumers to share information about shoes and clothing among themselves. Half of what makes a successful social campaign is simply reducing friction in getting the information from point A to point B: Templates and widgets are strong contenders for consideration here.

Going further, the templates also ensure factual consistency and therefore support the integrity of the underlying information. This adds credibility to the distributed notices, and points up a key aspect of social media: Content recipients quickly vet information and once "OK'd" pass it on with vigor. If the information is suspect, the quality "social sources" will hesitate rather than risk their own social capital.

In the end, social media ought to be part of the FDA's communications toolbox, as it should any government agency. Many of the efforts that connect these organizations to the public they serve revolve around timely dissemination of information. Reinforcing this through social channels makes sense.

Pete, your list is really comprehensive- I love the disabled shopping cart and your sister's visual reminders.

I've been thinking lately how people's perceptions of information repositories has taken on this negative connotation of 'static cesspool'. Content that isn't dynamic is old, stale, and tries to COMMAND our attention instead of asking for or meriting it. Seems like a no-brainer, but knowledge-rich sources were a high priority not too long ago. Implicitly our definition of dynamic today is social rich.

1. The one thing that really seems missing is some sense of social graph credibility. You walk away from the site with the sense that the government thinks this is important, but do your personal friends and trusted advisors? This is where something like Facebook Connect could be an interesting build...

- Just as we learn to take people who cry wolf with a grain of salt, it's exacerbated in the case of the government- even with Salmonella front and center. I have this sense of aha, it's what 'they' want me to know.

- In my opinion, anything that socializes the content and lets you know how your social graph is consuming the info, responding to the info, would be helpful. I think your safety satellite notion is good, but I wonder if could have some sort of API pulling in meta-content, content about how others are consuming their information in addition to highlighting the information per se. This seems right, given the increasing emphasis on individuals over memes as we decide how to allocate our attention and credibility points.

2. The other possibility, speaking more from my area of expertise is to leverage software that brings complex relationships to the forefront for consumers to understand how the landscape has suddenly changed. Make that front and center. Think Nielsen Online's Brand Association Maps (BAM) or IR engines like Endeca; think capitalizing on folksonomies and CGM. How is salmonella associated with things YOU use, know, see, buy. Maybe an on-the-fly BAM navigator for a given topic-- so imagine Salmonella in the center, a user enters a product they buy and gets taken to that word on the "map" to get a sense of how closely others are associating it? Clearly you'd need a lot of data, but in theory it could work. these ideas. Very operational and execution-oriented. Giving them places to start.

The reality is the average consumer is searching google on this topic to become educated. Social media can contribute by creating and democratizing content (from the company and from its constituents or consumers) that can be discovered.

I love the video idea...though it can't just be on the FDA site. Has to get out on multiple video platforms. It has to be titled as closely related to search keywords on this topic.

Also, they should enable consumers to share stories of what actions they took and what they learned. Make that accessible to SEO, and share that across other sites on this topic via javascript widgets. Make FDA be the hub, but allow spokes to be distributed throughout blogs and other sites (even ecommerce sites that sell related products).

And finally, FDA needs to be a core place to measure and distribute the voice on this topic to the industry (stores, manufacturers, consumers). Kind of like Google did with their trending chart of flu searches.

I echo Kate's point on credibility. The FDA is a government agency and Edelman shows us that the trust isn't there. They need to do more than create and disseminate content in new channels - they need to build relationships.

Related - the potential pick of Dr. Gupta for Surgeon General to bring more attention to the post. Why? Most people probably trust WebMD, Wikipedia, or Google search results more than an official government spokesperson these days.

The FDA needs to transform itself from being a faceless "administration" and show its composition of passionate and educated public health professionals. Then they'll be able to activate social media and benefit from its expediency, among other things.

Integrating with current social structures needs to happen as well. Anyone with kids knows that phone trees still exist, along with email chains. Why haven't any of these networks been activated to disseminate useful peanut-related information? I haven't heard anything from our school system in the Boston area.

We're still a long way away from the mainstreaming of social media. For worse, in this case.

These are very interesting solutions, Pete, and the comments are spot-on as well. I wonder, however, how to implement solutions *outside* of the web browser, but still leverage social media's strengths and relatively wide proliferation.

The need for alternative intersections with social media channels might be demonstrated in this case. Why not partner with Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Google, and other daily points of departure to spread the messages a la the Emergency Broadcast System via television? Moreover, dynamically updated information displays should present these notifications to consumers at point of purchase or via email if a retailer knows someone has purchased an affected item from the database of loyalty card transactions.

As Peter Kim suggested, social media and intelligent tech/web strategy can and should be applied outside of the traditional browser environment also. [It is my hope that] most social interactions still occur offline, so I'd expect as a valued customer, taxpayer, and parent I'd be communicated to accordingly.

Pete - great post for all srategic communication professionals. Lists like these generate thought and when you focus on very topical issues it helps in discussions with clients. I'll be sure to share a link and discuss on my blog (

what a great set of ideas. if they just did half of these, it would be huge.

open government is coming and it is going to be transformative

Pete- As you hint at- I think this type of thing (major event, affecting many, fast potential dispersion and high engagement level for short duration) is PERFECT for social media as a major awareness building tool. Early awareness and information distribution is the epitome of positive "social currency" and I would think the early announcements/updates would get passed around very very fast. But you've covered most of that.

Here's what I think you all missed:
If the FDA should be using video and is prepping a form press release- why not take it to the next level? Post messages from all parts of the supply chain (especially the producer) explaining what is wrong and what is being done to rememdy this situation? This, I think, would build even more trust in what is being said if that edelman survey about who is to be trusted is real. This should also drive more eyes/help the business in recovery on the backend.
If there is anything to be learned from the Obama team, its that more information on things which interest the public will be well received and passed around. Transparency is a must- I think this goes back to my other points, but I think the social media arena is a place that builds a feeling of transparency (even if its really no more transparent than otherwise) and that in itself is highly valuable for the FDA/business community.

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